By: Jones Nhinson Williams
The most appreciable fundamental of life is not to copy what other people do if you don’t understand why they do it, why they want to do it, or how they are doing it. The reason is if these basics are not grasped the possibilities for the most profound errors are even higher. This is exactly what is happening with the so-called vision 2030 initiative launched or undertaken by the Liberian government under President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Instead of expressing absolute failure and disappointment in the process, the dreamers and implementers of our country’s vision 2030 are coining phrases such as ‘Amid Setbacks, Vision 2030 On Course’. There is no such thing as ‘on course’ in this process and there is no such thing as a vision 2030 in Liberia in the first instance. It is either an overdue trash or a well-thought-out scam. Here is why.
According to local news sources, the Liberian administration held a National Development Summit on April 25, 2016 in Gbarnga, Bong County. At the summit, the Liberian leader, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, indicated that “the implementation of Liberia’s shared vision, Vision 2030, which seeks to make Liberia a middle income country, is well on course and that the government is committed to ensuring that the national vision is realized in the next 14 months”, the remaining time of the Sirleaf’s Unity Party’s administration. This is exactly the problem. No government implements a vision as broad in scope and magnitude within 14 months when nothing has been achieved so far. Among other things, the Liberian leader and some officials of the government highlighted the recruitment and training of more soldiers and the hiring, training and deployment of more police, immigration and drug enforcement officers as some of the key successes of the so-called vision 2030 that is being amplified nationwide. Really??
Other ill-prepared officials of the administration have noted that since the “launch of the National Vision, 5,192 officers have been recruited, trained and deployed nationwide. The LNP (Liberia National Police) has also purchased and delivered nonlethal weapons to 10 camps vacated by the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) police. The current strength of the BIN (Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization) is 2,346. In 2013 and 2014, they disclosed that 234 and 265 officers were trained and deployed respectively. They further indicated that the United Nation Development Program (UNDP) funding is helping to train additional 250 recruits in Grand Cape Mount County. Upon completion, uniforms, communication equipment and vehicles will be provided to the trainees”. With what is enumerated above from the government’s own account, one wonders as to what is visionary about a government carrying out its constitutional duties and responsibilities? These things mentioned above are what any responsible government supposed to do any way. So why are these leaders banging around showcasing a function of below average governance?
A number of countries around the world, especially those transitioning from third world capacities to emerging markets status have geared towards a vision 2030 process. Bahrain for example, launched its Economic Vision 2030 in 2008 with a philosophy and guiding principles of sustainability, fairness and competitiveness. Bahrain’s vision 2030 is a comprehensive economic compass that provides a clear direction for the continued development of the Bahraini Kingdom’s economy. At the center of Bahrain vision 2030 is a shared goal of building a better and improved life for every Bahraini citizen. On the contrary, Liberia’s so-called vision 2030 makes our nation unsustainable, unfair and non-competitive. The only thing sustainable, fair and competitive in Liberia is that almost everyone wants to be a politician or work for the Liberian government, and a few select families, friends, loyalists, bureaucrats and elected officials have become overnight millionaires through theft and misdeeds at the peril of our nation and people.
Rwanda which, like Liberia, was in a brutal civil war with the most heinous genocide in human history, developed a roadmap instead of a vision 2030. That roadmap is today a global model for genuine reconciliation, socio-economic and political progress. According to columnists Margee M. Ensign, Op-ed contributor and Mathilde Mukantabana, Op-ed contributor, of the Boston Globe, [April 7, 2014], “The progress Rwanda has achieved since its genocide may be the most significant example of human development of the past 20 years. Its governance should not be the subject of criticism, but should stand as a model for other nations seeking reconciliation”. With sincere leadership, good governance and patriotism, the Rwandan leaderships have made unimaginable headways without paying millions of dollars to Washington, D.C.’s lobbyists and public relations firms for singular promotions aimed at seeking global attentions for undeserved awards. Instead, the Rwandans focus on a roadmap that has led to marked progress. As a result, there is a universal acknowledgement that life expectancy in Rwanda has more than doubled in twenty years, a million people have been lifted out of poverty, women are the majority of the legislators, 95 percent of the population has health insurance, and the country is ranked as one of the safest places in the world to live in Gallup’s Global States of Mind poll. This is exactly the same country a million people were murdered in a genocide some two decades ago. What evolved in Rwanda is good leadership, patriotism, clear vision and a sense of togetherness. In the case of Liberia, we went from unacceptable leaderships to the worse leadership in our nation’s 150 years history, with games, tricks and manipulation remaining constant.
Kenya’s vision 2030 launched by then President Mwai Kibaki in June 2008 has a philosophical framework and guiding principles. In addition, it is void of political skimming and personal interests. To manifest seriousness and objectivity, the leadership of Kenya set up a Vision Delivery Secretariat independent of any ministry or agency. Since its inauguration, Kenya’s vision 2030 has brought advances in governance and more. For example, Kenya is today a fully decentralized nation where governance and decision-making are truly participatory. The country’s vision 2030 uses devolved funds to strengthen decentralization of development projects at the community level. Improved planning and coordination of such projects at the local level are given priority in realizing this goal. Every county in Kenya has a governor with executive power and a sub-cabinet for administrative activities. In addition, each county also has a local legislature that decides for their people at the local level. As a result, socio-economic development and urbanization are flowing throughout the country without mandate from or dependence on the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
Liberia is the contrary. The people who live in Monrovia and earn over US$12,000 monthly (in a nation with one of the lowest GDPs and high personal and collective poverty rate) decide for the counties where food insecurity, poverty and unemployment are excessive, where there are no appropriate medical facilities and equipped schools, where women die from childbirth and kids from mal-nutrition and preventable diseases, and where foreign nationals are exploiting natural resources at will under the auspices of mining diamonds, gold and more. Unlike the Sirleaf-Boakai’s Unity Party lead administration that is increasing the size of government with numerous officials, bureaucrats, civil servants and security personnel for self-protection and loyalty, the Kenyan government’s vision 2030 aims to transform Kenya into a "newly industrializing, middle income society by providing a high quality of life and a clean and secure environment.
For its part, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s new economic vision, with a clearly defined philosophy and guiding principles, aims to maximize US$100 billion dollars in non-oil revenue by 2020 and also create six million new jobs by 2030. Accordingly, the Kingdom’s deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman indicated that if the reforms bear fruit, Saudi Arabia could "live without oil by 2020". "We have all developed an oil addiction in Saudi Arabia and this is dangerous and has hampered development in many sectors during past years," he told Saudi-owned al-Arabiya news channel. In Liberia, we have the contrary. Our government does not think about investing in innovation, alternative industries and in science, technology, engineering and math. Instead, they are focused on exploiting our extractive industries. They have sold off all the mining sectors - iron ore, diamond, gold and the potential oil wells; given away our land for rogue foreign agricultural activities. They are even selling our birthrights. All public procurement contracts, if not given to insiders and family-connected individuals, then they are given to foreign nationals. Imagine, Chinese are selling sand and bread and soap are sold by Lebanese and others. Small scale road and general construction contracts are given away to non-Liberians who, in turn, bribe few greedy officials and powerful members of the many hegemonies. And, when foreign nationals failed, then the administration seeks to artificially bail them out, as in the case of Novafone, a failed and mismanaged cellular phone company that is purportedly own by a not-so-good Lebanese business family that has floated Liberia’s wealth by fronting for corrupt officials during the past four decades.
There are other admirable visions that we could learn from. For example, the Abu Dhabi economic vision 2030 is a comprehensive blueprint that seeks to diversify the Emirate’s economy in the long term through what is considered a transformative process that will reduce the nation’s reliance on the oil sector as a source of economic activity. As such, a greater focus is placed on knowledge-based industries with real significant increase in the contribution of other sectors to the Emirate’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by the end of 2030. In essence, the planners and implementers of the Emirate’s vision 2030 are not just on the same pace or coordinating in earnest, they are driving real improvement in the efficiency of their labor market by developing a highly productive and highly skilled workforce, and enabling their financial markets to become the key financiers of their economic projects and sectors. By this, the vision is on record to create significant opportunities for international and local private sectors in the Emirate while simultaneously creating new employment opportunities for UAE citizens in the future, especially in highly skilled, knowledge-based and export-oriented sectors. In Liberia, we have the exact opposite. We have a system that encourages everyone to become a politician or attempt seek political office because that is how wealth is generated - through the abuse of power, corruption, public theft, cronyism, favoritism, nepotism and cover-ups, lies and deceit, and attention-seeking syndrome.
First and foremost, a national vision for any nation, no matter the size, population, natural resources or human capacity, is generally driven by a philosophy. In other words, guiding principles that set clear and comprehensive targets. The current Liberian administration has no clearly defined and realistic philosophy with respect to addressing poverty alleviation and socio-economic development. This is why it is all over the place with copycat ideas that do not bear any tangible fruits. Secondly, a national vision is not only guided by a defined and realistic economic plan, it is also measured by strategic public policy guidelines. On the contrary, since 2006, Liberia has had no real economic plan nor a public policy framework. Instead, we see Karamoko economics, at best - a process that relies on sorcerers and oracles’ consultation to derive fame, obtain accolades and elevation under the pretext of progress. As a result, everyone does their own thing to please the all-powerful president and at the same time take whatever they can get for themselves. We saw it with the bogus central bank’s fiasco loan scheme under ex-Governor Mills Jones. The victims of that corrupt and self-conceited loan program are Liberia and the Liberian people. Today, we all know the corruption that went on at the bank as explained by the ex-governor’s own special assistant in recent days. Yet, they are walking scout free while Liberia lose big time.
Again, it all boils down to the simple fact that something terribly wrong is happening in the way our nation is governed. So why is the Unity Party administration glorifying setbacks or failure as progress? Why is the administration amplifying a basic duty as something extra-ordinary? The answer is simple, the leadership cares more about itself more than it does for the country.
At the recent mock summit in Gbarnga, the Liberian administration further intimated that “Steadfast progress [is] being made in all of the pillars,” including peace, security and the rule of law, economic transformation and human development”. To add more scam to the narratives, the administration is on record as saying “government is making steadfast progress as it relates to pillar one, which comprises four sectors to create an atmosphere of peaceful coexistence based on reconciliation and conflict resolution and providing security, access to justice and the rule of law”. Really???
Let us address these denigrations one by one. The administration appears to have an illusory understanding of peace and a distracted interpretation of security. The absence of war does not amount to true peace and the fact that the well-connected and well-off in the nation’s capital, Monrovia, are personally secured does not mean that there is national security or that everyone in Liberia is secured. How can the Sirleaf’s Unity Party regime talk about peace when it has concocted an atmosphere of disunity between Liberians? Doesn’t the administration see the potentially chaotic undertone of Christians versus Muslims, tribes versus tribes, and natives versus Americo-Liberians because of the way the country is being ruled? How can the administration shamelessly forget that it engineered the so-called Christian state idea while simultaneously undermining the truth and reconciliation commission? How can the administration forget that it has enriched a select social class of people rather than empowering the entire citizenry? How can the administration forget that it has prioritized certain regions of the country for limited development purposes than others? The entire south-eastern region of Liberia is absolutely neglected. There is no reason why a mere dislike for the late president Samuel K. Doe, Sr. should equate to an unnecessary dislike and neglect of the southeastern region of Liberia. Is this peace or a desire for peace?
On the question of security, it would be an understatement to state that it is bamboozling. One wonders what the administration understands by security. True be told, there are both food and physical insecurities in Liberia. Several Liberian families cannot afford a well-nourished meal. And even those who can, they live on less than a dollar a day. Isn’t this food insecurity and acute poverty? According to the United Nations’ World Food Programme’s Fighting Hunger Worldwide, Liberia - Emergency Food Security Assessment, published June 2015, “Food insecurity affects 640,000 people, corresponding to16 percent of the population. Among these about 52,000 households (2 percent) are severely food insecure. 21 percent of households do not have access to an adequate diet. 41 percent of households did not have food or money to buy food the week before the survey, thus the average reduced Coping Strategies Index (rCSI) doubled in three years. Food expenditures share is beyond 65 percent of the total household expenditures for one fourth of Liberian households. 18 percent of households are using emergency coping strategies (mostly begging) to ensure bulk of food needs. In May rice stock was completed depleted for one third of the households and the cassava stocks for 18 percent of the households. The most food insecure counties are located in the south eastern part of the country (Grand Kru: 33 percent; River Gee: 32 percent) and the North (Grand Cape Mount (30 percent) and Bomi (30 percent) where the physical access to market is a constraint”. Doesn’t the administration know this? Apart from the WFP, other international agencies even have a more undesirable analysis.
Furthermore, how can the Sirleaf-Unity Party’s administration holler about progress in the physical security sector of the country when several high profile murders of whistle-blowers, political opponents and critics remained unsolved? These heinous crimes are unsolved not because of the lack of investigative capacity, but because of authoritative interferences, potential cover-ups, misstatements and the lack of political will. Apart from ushering in misguided flames and pretexts, when is the administration going to actually solve the murders of whistle-blowers Michael Allison and the well-calculated political assassination of Harry Greaves? These are just two of the known ones; there are many Liberian citizens and residents who have been murdered mysteriously either for ritualistic purposes, or through abuse of power, and/or due to recycled revenge syndrome in the power that be. In addition to this chancy situation, brutality and armed robbery are also all time high, both by unemployed youth and by some rogue members of the Sirleaf’s administration own security forces. To date, we don’t have any conclusive findings nor are we aware of any punitive actions in the case involving a Korean businessman who was robbed in daylight by senior officials of our government security forces? What will urge a respected investor to consider investing under this regime so that private sector jobs are created for our people?
Many of us are in favor of a vision, and in particular the so-called vision 2030 only if it is realistic, and not used as a scam to portray the opposite. A vision of this nature, as espoused by the Liberian administration, should go beyond attention-seeking posture and the normal duties and responsibilities of a responsible government to an actual transformation of the lives of our people and fabric of our country and its institutions by deriving both quantitative and qualitative change and/or expansion of our country’s economy. Such economic growth strategy ought to be pursued or achieved through a more productive use of our resources, including labor. If that happens, it could result in higher per capital income and improvement in all Liberians’ average standard of living. This means the Liberian administration should put economic development at the center of its vision 2030, a process that should be prone to corruption, the lack of transparency, nepotism, cronyism, judicial mal-practice, executive interference, influence buying and peddling, pay and play tricks, and the abuse of power. Currently, with our country’s vision 2030, none of these vices are addressed. In fact, they have intensified such that bureaucrats and public officials who have stolen national wealth are either left alone or protected by the power that be through a proxy dynamic process. Matilda Parker and Corp, Beysolow and Corp, all the thefts of NOCAL, and the list goes on.
Instead of this administration focusing on attention-driven and manipulative tactics aimed at deceiving a suffering people, it needs to come clean and usher in inclusive ideas from all Liberians, especially people who are sincere to see a better Liberia with unlocked potential. The very first step towards unlocking our country’s economic growth potential is to create a strategic economic vision that will prioritize the uplifting of all Liberians, covering the richness of diversity and opportunities we have on our doorstep as a nation. The vision for Liberia must concentrate on changing Liberia from a third world country to a first world nation.
To do this, we must regionalize Liberia into five areas: Sinoe, River Gee, Maryland, Grand Kru and Grand Gedeh counties as region I with its own regional capital, governor, local/regional legislative council and government, and this should be in addition to the counties’ superintendents; Lofa, Nimba and Bong counties as region II; Grand Cape Mount, Gbarpolu and Bomi counties as region III; Grand Bassa, Margibi and River Cess counties as region IV; and Montserado as region V. Then we must identify each region and capital with certain major industry sectors. That is, we can have a technology capital, a manufacturing capital, a biotechnological and medical capital, a commercial capital for trade and general business; a political capital and more. This way, urbanization will boom and advanced infrastructure development spread nationwide, thereby reducing over-crowdedness and congestion in Monrovia. Accompanying these efforts should be the construction of super highways and railways connecting the entire nation and also connecting our neighboring states such as Sierra Leone, Guinea and the Ivory Coast.
Alongside the delivery of this economic and social vision should come a public policy strategy that focuses on enabling the creation of private sector employment opportunities, not government jobs, by refocusing on real judicial independence and transparency, security sector reform, creating a business-friendly climate and condition that induce and attract foreign investments, enable local small business establishments, and spur innovation while supporting workforce development and training, as well as investing in agricultural food production, and in science, technology, engineering and math. Our goal should be for Liberia to be the most business-friendly nation in Africa, if not the world, and our target should be to create four million new jobs by 2030 in all sectors, from leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, information, manufacturing, education and healthcare, and construction to financial services, arts and entertainment, transportation, trade and utilities, and other services. Just by having some of the best universities and technical institutions in Liberia, we will be able to attract foreign students which, in turn, would bring in revenue in tuition, rental and leasing and the purchase of goods and services. By reducing tariff and putting in place a better port management system, possibly under some private management, we can become the gateway to West Africa’s commerce.
We also need to put in place a blue ‘card system’ and a numbering protocol that tracks and distinguishes Liberian citizens from non-Liberians. At the moment, any Jack and James, Mary and Sally can become a Liberian without a proper naturalization process. Besides, we don’t who is a legitimate Liberian resident or not. In this period of global havoc, this is very important. We can also introduce a tax payment monitoring system by allowing every Liberian citizen and resident to file annual tax returns. Our poor people will be encourage to pay taxes if they know that they can get something in return at the end of the year. The process will also make it easier for the government to track who is paying taxes and who is not. The bottom-line is, we need a government that is not a hindrance, but one that serves the people and our business community so that they create jobs.
With our nation’s vast opportunity of being a traditional ally of the United States and Israel over the last century, why can’t Liberia be the retirement destination for Americans, and the information technology and biotech partner of Israel? Why can’t Liberia be the Africa’s distribution headquarters for trading conglomerates like Wal-Mart, Apple, Gap, Home Depot, Loews, General Motors and more? All of these opportunities are feasible if we have the right people to govern and implement our nation’s vision. So far, what we have is nothing but greed among a very small group of politicians and self-centered bureaucrats who only interest is short-sighted, selfish and mean. We can do better than this and it is up to us the Liberian people to stand up for change, for ourselves and for our country, because if we don’t the shameless and heartless contingent aboard the Liberian ship will take us farther and dump us into deep sea to sink more and more. Enough is enough!! We must change these unqualified pilots by our vote in 2017 before our ship sinks beneath the ocean of no return. Let them go with their stolen wealth and earthly sins; they will account before God when the day of judgement comes, as no one is too big or too rich or too powerful to escape Heavenly powers. On that note, the decision we make going forward will decide who we are as a people. And that means once a mistake is a mistake, twice a mistake means we are fools. This is exactly why 2017 is crucial, if not, more significant than ever before.
About The Author: Jones Nhinson Williams is a Catholic educated philosopher and an American trained public policy professional. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org